Handstands on the Road

Camino Portugues Part II

Welcome back to the story, here we go. I am happy to announce that I have returned to civilization – I didn’t think I’d say that anytime soon but having escaped life in a field and a work experience with a traditional circus that clearly wasn’t for me feels pretty relaxing for the time being. Not having lived in an actual house with its own water and power supply since February, I am still getting used to this luxury and wake up a little surprised to find my phone charged in the morning as I keep thinking that the generator will switch off at night, not allowing me to charge my devices while I am sleeping… other benefits include an incredibly large and fluffy duvet[1] as well as the fact that the bathroom is just across the hallway; that’s right, folks, I don’t have to take a flash light or my own toilet paper or even put on shoes and leave the building/tent/caravan/bunk to go for a late night wee!

While I still love being and living outdoors, this whole convenience thing with the roof, walls, electricity and running (hot!) water is a really welcome break, and actually gives me the chance to catch up on a few things I have neglected, such as blogging (and taxes)…

On the road homes at the circus

So where was I? Continuing from where we left off, at kilometre 219 on the Portuguese Camino in Rabaçal, a cozy little accumulation of houses[2] with an albergue[3] slightly south of Coimbra, day 8 started early and, surprisingly, not without company. Sure enough, as soon as I left the accommodation, a small, good-tempered pup greeted me on a deserted road crossing next to the terrace. I wished him a good morning and as he rolled over on the street, patted his tummy and stayed to play for a minute or two. As I assumed that he belonged to the albergue, I was a little concerned when he started following me down the road and out of the village and I repeatedly made an effort to get him to sit down and stay behind, only to hear fast paced paw steps racing up behind me as soon as I left him too far behind.

Where to? Hiking buddy Pouco is waiting

After a good 15 minutes of walking, I figured that it would be bad karma to kidnap a dog that belonged to people who had so kindly offered me their kitchen and a place to sleep, so I walked the dog back to the albergue and luckily, the albergue warden had gotten up and was hanging up the washing on the patio when I approached with the dog… however, as I explained the situation and asked for her help locking my little furry pal in until I was out of sight, she laughed and explained that they had no dog. Then she turned to the dog and said “it’s alright buddy, you can walk with her!” And sure enough he did for the next few hours. As it was heating up and I was walking rather fast and had about 20 miles planned for the day, I was a little concerned that my four legged friend wouldn’t be able to keep up with me as his tongue was hanging dangerously low even after a few miles. I tried sharing what little food I had , turned out Pouco[4] didn’t like banana. As you have a lot of time to think situations through when walking for hours on end, I came up with all sorts of scenarios, mentally already looking for a home for my new buddy, planning what I would do once I hit the next city, where to keep him if I was staying at a hostel that night and promising him a subsequent home and family should he follow me to Santiago…

Pouco and me, already planning a future together

But alas, situations also change quite quickly on the trail and while I was still busy making up scenarios and planning accommodation for two now, Pouco was chased away by two bigger strays in the next village I passed through and I never saw him again. A small part of me likes to believe that he was doing his own Camino and just like me, would occasionally walk with a fellow pilgrim only to then be led astray or carry on alone. Who knows, maybe he has made it to Santiago by now?

On the way to Coimbra, on my own again

I spent the rest of the day mentally pre-writing letters and postcards as well as pressing a few flowers in my journal ‘cause I’m old school like that (which another hiker picked up on and made fun of, although he was a good 30 years older than me!)

Steep stairs leading up to the old town of Coimbra

When I hit Coimbra – a rest day for many and something most other pilgrims had been looking forward to for a while – I came to realize that the reality of the touristy, more expensive location full of non-hikers was not something I was prepared for. Instead of relishing the luxuries of civilization, I felt the town was too big, too crowded, too expensive and had rather ugly outskirts. Rather than nodding and wishing a good day like village people, the men and women I encountered here were too busy to greet and acknowledge each other and the bane that is public transport was buzzing around me again. That’s when it hit me that I had change since leaving the little village I was raised in: I was not a city person like teenage me had once aspired to be and was, in fact, over city life.
I still made good use of the half day off and explored Coimbra… I guess when you’re looking for a city break, there’s worse places to be after all and in all honesty, when the torrential rain broke lose, I was glad to be practicing my handstands in a dry spot.

Famous antropomorph sculpture of a Portuguese guitar in the Fado[5] stronghold Coimbra
Leaving Coimbra the next morning, I was surprised to meet many people who had apparently gotten up early. Usually, I started walking between half six and seven and the small villages and towns I often stayed in where mostly deserted at that time of day – not in Coimbra! The streets were filled with young people walking up and down the stairs, dressed casually or even chic and seeming cheerful and rather awake. Before my morning coffee, it genuinely took some time for me to figure out that all those people had not fallen out of bed early but were in fact returning from a night out on the student town. Detached from a routine of drinking, going out and partying all night even during my most social days (i.e. not on a pilgrimage), I quickly left Coimbra behind and spend the next two days walking with a chap called Anthony who walked at a similar pace and had many stories to tell from an interesting work life as an IT engineer of the early days.

Get me out of town by the morning!

I relished the company of other pilgrims after having spent time away from the hiking community during my short stay in the hostel in Coimbra and almost all of us made easy work of the shorter stages of the following days, passing through one of my favourite towns on the Camino Portugues, Águeda where I purchased an ankle support for the enduring (but tolerable) pain in my right ankle.

In front of colourful stairs in artsy and welcoming Águeda

The weather was unsteady again, distances covered were short and while my ankles probably needed some rest, I felt that I was growing more and more restless after a while in the company of others and was missing longer days as well as my handstand training (due to space and weather restrictions), so sure enough, after passing the rather unspectacular half way mark, I was looking forward to the next 34km stretch leading up to Porto which I will cover in Part III along with decision making, longer stages and serendipitous encounters…

[1] Don’t get me wrong, I love and cherish my sleeping bag and my gratitude for it might outlive it.
[2] It felt like calling it a village would be a bit of a stretch.
[3] Cheap accommodation in dorms usually for pilgrims, similar to a low budget hostel.
[4] After a while of talking to him and walking together, I named him ”Pouco“ which is Portuguese for “[a] little.” Later on I realized that a few years ago, I had given a rescue mouse that exact same name. Funny that, I guess referring to something sweet as “little one” is just intuitive after all.
[5] Portuguese Fado is a musical genre in its own right. The fadistas, men and women singing fado, will often sing about nostalgia, yearning, love (often for a time, a place or a sensation rather than a person) and other melancholy topics. It is a huge part of Portuguese culture, especially in Lisbon and Coimbra. Had I stayed longer, I would have loved to visit a traditional fado evening.

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